I’ve never heard so many people say “it’s my favorite” about a place so much as I have in reference to Solvang. Everyone and their mother just L O V E S Solvang. I get it though, what isn’t naturally appealing about the idea of a Danish Disneyland? A Danish Disneyland that doesn’t even require an entrance fee at that – just free and fun scenery and charm everywhere! It’s oozing with cute and quaint things. And truly there is nowhere else in California (let alone most places around the world outside of Europe) that are quite like it.
Any road trip in or around the central coast requires a stop in Solvang, even if it’s just for a traditional Danish pastry, a beer, or even just a stroll. For me, Solvang has always been a bit on the cheesy side. It’s kind of like the Madonna Inn of the Santa Ynez Valley / Central Coast. But it’s the kind of cheesy your inner kid is ready and willing to appreciate. Sure it’s goofy, but are you not entertained? Are you not smiling? Full from delicious food? Smelling the flowers? Finding yourself suddenly going for a tour around town by way of the draft-horse-driven “Solvang Trolley”? YES, OF COURSE YOU ARE because you know how to make the most out of any situation and any true California road trip. But in case you could use a little guidance, here’s what you need to know before stopping in Solvang:
GUIDE TO SOLVANG
- Solvang was founded in 1911 by Danish-American educators on 9,000 acres of land surrounding Old Mission Santa Ines purchased for $75,000 (a town/colony established by Danes, FOR Danes)
- It’s located in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, about 2 hours north of Los Angeles
- Solvang has four wooden windmills within four blocks and five authentic Danish bakeries within five blocks
- Much of the town’s facades are built in a “Danish Provincial” style
- Solvang is in the heart of wine country and is surrounded by 120+ wineries and vineyards
- My favorite movie of all time, Sideways, was mostly filmed in Solvang (and Buellton, and around the SYV)
- It’s a pretty dog-friendly area, so don’t worry about bringing your pup if you want to!
- Solvang is also very family-friendly, so if you’ve got kiddos, bring ’em!
- Solvang, especially on the weekends, is busy. If you are worried about crowds I would air on the side of caution and visit mid-week. Or at the very least just avoid the major streets if you plan on walking around
- It’s tricky to make spontaneous plans, especially when it comes to dining. Plan ahead, go early, and/or MAKE RESERVATIONS (if possible). It will save you a lot of time and frustration
- There are a number of restaurants in Solvang that don’t allow reservations though. So again, I would plan on doing things at off times
- Nearly everything is open, including shops
WHERE TO STAY
There are actually a number of hotels to stay at in Solvang. Many of which are a bit dated but within the past few years, there have been a few really great hotels that have opened up and changed things.
On my recent trip, I had the pleasure of staying at the brand new Vinland Hotel.
And while it was still being worked on a bit I was pleased with the potential. Vinland is an 82-room hotel with a clean, modern design, “elevating the traditional Solvang hotel experience”. They offer both curbside and contactless check-in. And the hotel’s top suites are in partnership with three nearby wineries, offering guests exclusive perks and experiences with the vineyards. Hotel amenities include a heated pool and hot tub (prized rarities in this region). Cold brew coffee bar, and soon-to-open V Lounge, featuring fresh Californian fare with an unmistakable Danish flair in addition to local wines, craft beer, and innovative cocktails.
The rooms were great (nothing better than a properly working AC unit). The staff was friendly. I loved the central location. And I can’t wait to come back someday to enjoy the pool and their new lounge.
If I weren’t staying at Vinland, I would definitely be checking out the brand new (and I mean BRAND. NEW) The Winston boutique hotel. Which is an upscale boutique hotel (just 14 rooms!) in the historic Old Mill Clock Tower. It looks like an amazing space. I love the eclectic, worldly, bohemian feel. And I cant wait to see it in person someday. Not to mention, The Winston offers “Invisible Service” – from contactless check-in, a private honor bar, to in-room dining, The Winston is on the forefront of contactless service.
Another great hotel option I’ve heard great things about is The Lansby
It’s super centrally located, it’s got a gorgeous contemporary design (but with of course a traditional Scandinavian aesthetic), and I’ve heard the restaurant/bar is great.
If you want something completely different and fancy yourself a horse person or “ranch-type” perhaps (that’s a thing right?), definitely, without a doubt, book a stay at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort. I am not exaggerating when I say that my trip to Alisal a few years ago was in my top 3 favorite trips of all time – yes, even over Mexico, and Europe, etc. I fancy myself a horse person and rarely have the privilege to hang around my favorite four-legged friends, so the Alisal is a very special place to someone like me.
But regardless of your level of love for horses, Alisal really caters to everyone with all kinds of interests; they’ve got golf, a spa, a pool, tennis, cycling, fishing, archery, scenic walks, air rifle, bird watching, holy moly you name it. Not to mention, it’s an absolutely beautiful and totally tranquil property – don’t forget I’m still bougie, and Alisal is A+ in my book.
WHERE TO EAT (AND DRINK)
[lunch, dinner, beer, casual]
To me, there is no better way to get an authentic experience than by way of food and drinks. If I’m in Solvang, the first thing I want is a sausage, a large pretzel, and a beer, and the best place to get all of that is at Copenhagen Sausage Garden. It’s super casual (no reservations so keep that in mind), it’s all outside, they have tons of large picnic tables to sit at, and everything is genuinely delicious. The sausage and beers are a given (and they’ve got about 10000 sauces to choose from) but don’t skip out on that large pretzel I am telling you.
[cheese duh, lunch, picnic accouterments, treats, coffee]
Open every day from 12 – 5 pm, Cailloux is the cutest and the perfect place to go if you want to pick up some items for a picnic (a great idea if you’re out wine tasting!), but you’re more than welcome to select some items and hang outside in their courtyard. They even have cheese tasting classes, but be sure to check their website for updates and events.
[dinner, date night, upscale]
We made a point to make a reservation for dinner here ahead of time because this was one of the restaurants at the top of list to check out, and it absolutely did not disappoint. First & Oak was awarded a Michelin Plate honor in 2019, the menu/food was fantastic, and the dishes were indeed extraordinarily beautiful. It was a perfect date night spot; it’s located down a quiet street, the seating outside was actually really nice (they had plexiglass partitions between tables too), and the Mirabelle Inn (which it’s a part of) is darling. It felt like a totally magical evening, one I would gladly do all over again.
[cofee, tea, morning things, vegan & GF bakery]
Good Seed is Solvang’s awesome local coffee shop! Besides their wonderful and fancy coffee, they also offer organic V/GF baked goods. And that’s all you really need to know.
[bar, wine-based cocktails, beer, wine, tiki]
High Roller Tiki gets the highest praise from me for many reasons. For one, my love of Tiki knows no bounds, but High Roller doesn’t actually make traditional Tiki cocktails with spirts, they’re actually wine-based – so bonus points for something totally new and totally creative. Secondly, I just love how “different” High Roller Tiki is for the area, and what a fun atmosphere they’ve created. Once they’re able to open the inside again for seating, on any given night you should be able to enjoy a live band to accompany your refreshment (they offer beer and wine as well). It’s a damn good time, so don’t miss the opportunity.
There are two major bakeries in Solvang: Olsen’s and Mortensen’s. Olsen’s seemed to be the busier of the two, so in that case, I opted to check out Mortensen’s and was not disappointed. After sharing my treats on my Instagram stories I was actually so pleased to see that so many people actually seemed to prefer Mortensen’s! I don’t think you can go wrong either way, just order as many Danishes as you can and enjoy.
Olsen’s has been turning out delicious kringles, cakes, cookies, and breads in Solvang since 1970. It’s become one of the town’s main attractions and on any given morning there is a line out the door to get a taste (and a whiff) of what’s baking. When in Solvang right?
[lunch, American, casual, “foodie” spot, house-made desserts]
if there’s one restaurant in Solvang sure to please EVERYONE, it’s peasants FEAST. There isn’t a single thing on the menu they didn’t totally nail, but that smash burger and their frozen key lime pie are worth the drive to Solvang alone. peasants FEAST has a ton of outdoor seating at the moment, it’s casual, it’s open for lunch (which is oddly tricky to come by these days), and as mentioned, the food is to die for. It’s run by a husband and wife duo and this might sound cheesy but who cares, you can genuinely feel the love they have for what they do.
Have you really even been to Solvang if you haven’t had Danish pancakes at Paula’s? I swear, this had to be the single most suggested restaurant I received, and while I genuinely wanted to see what the fuss was about, so did 100+ other folks. Needless to say, Paula is popular and knows her way around the best breakfast treat, so if you’re a pancake person, there you have it.
[breakfast, brunch, lunch, happy hour]
The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort has a number of really great restaurants, but the River Grill on the golf course is open to non-Alisal patrons and is a great spot for breakfast/brunch or lunch. Their patio has amazing sweeping views of the valley, and they’re one of the few restaurants open 7 days a week right now. M-TH they’re open from 8 am – 3pm / 4 – 7 pm (Friday they open at 7), SAT & SUN they’re open 7 am – 3 pm.
[lunch, early dinner, casual, take out]
Seasonal, fresh, crazy delicious, Ramen Kotori is a joint venture of Budi Kazali of The Ballard Inn and Gathering Table and Chef Francisco Velazquez with his wife Ikuko “Erica” Velazquez. It’s casual (right now you can order to-go or seat yourself in their courtyard) and it’s another one of the only solid restaurants in town that is actually open for lunch (open Weds – Sunday 12 – 6 pm as of right now).
[breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, dinner, drinks, wine]
A place where you can get just about anything any anytime – and have it be delicious – is Succulent Cafe. They’re touted as “comfort food with a gourmet twist” and whether you want breakfast, lunch, cheese & charcuterie, a glass of wine, dinner, or cocktails, Succulent Cafe is probably the only place in town that can cover all of those bases for you. I had the pleasure of ordering breakfast (to-go, we had places to be) but I will tell you that biscuit was one of the best I’ve ever had. I loved their special “to-go” window in fact, but if we’d had enough time I would have loved to dine on their patio. (Right now they are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but they’re open from 11 – 8 M,TH, F, and 9 – 8 SAT & SUN.)
OUTSIDE OF TOWN
[dinner Weds – Sun, reservations required, upscale]
If you have a true passion for dining, The Gathering Table at the adorable Ballard Inn needs to be high on your priority list. Ballard is actually technically a part of Solvang. So it wont be too far of a drive but it’s a great place for a change of Danish pace. You’re in for a real treat though at The Gathering Table, Chef Budi Kazali (who actually owns the Ballard Inn with his wife) “artistically melds Asian and French cuisine to deliver a truly delectable and extensive menu that features seasonal, locally sourced produce, seafood, and meats.” (The Gathering Table) It’s well respected in the area. Zagat rated (voted #1 food in Santa Barbara), and the perfect destination for a dinner out on vacation.
[dinner, nice but not fancy, BBQ steaks, great for wine]
“The Hitching Post II blends traditional Santa Maria Barbecue with eclectic local ingredients and award-winning wines for an exciting cuisine that is uniquely its own.” And yes – it’s the restaurant Miles and Jack go to in Sideways! Besides their movie feature though the Hitching Post has long been an SYV favorite. Loved by both locals and visitors alike. It’s located just down the road from Solvang in Buellton. And it’s just one of those local “musts” – they won’t steer you wrong.
[lunch, dinner, New American]
Another Buellton favorite amongst many is Industrial Eats tucked away and located in an old repurposed warehouse. It has a younger energy, they’re casual/cool, they craft seasonally. And are known for their deli, pizzas and beer selection, and they’ve even got a small butcher shop. Bonus: they’re open daily from 12 – 8 pm.
[dinner, nice but not white linen, A+ ambiance]
Of all the restaurants I’ve been to in the SYV, my favorite meal I had was here at SY Kitchen in Santa Ynez. Between the beautiful patio, the incredible cocktails, the delicious dishes (especially the pizza and pasta), to the service, everything was working for me. It’s just one of those local restaurants you wish you could become a regular at. It felt special but not stuffy, and the meal was genuinely out of this world. Well done SY Kitchen, cant wait to come back.
[dinner, classic Italian]
Located in Santa Ynez, Trattoria Grappolo has been a local favorite since 1997. I was told by a friend/follower that Trattoria Grappolo is an absolute must if you’re in the area. And that she hasn’t had Italian food that good since she was in Italy. If that’s not a glowing recommendation then I don’t know what is. But it’s a totally quaint, cozy, adorable restaurant and if you’re in the mood for Italian look no further!
WHAT TO DO
Two really well-curated, only-in-Solvang shopping experiences are @onederchild (Hand Curated Gifts + Toys + Books) and @solvangspice (spices!). For more traditionally-Danish / European foods and goods, visit The Vinhus. For a cute indie bookstore, stop in at @thebookloftsolvang.
Located in the tiny upstairs of the book loft building is the ode to famous author Hans Christian Andersen (“The Little Mermaid”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Ugly Duckling”, and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”) As of right now I believe the museum is closed. But the bookstore might be open – check in directly for updates.
You’ll see these goofy little go-cart-lookin’-things everywhere – can’t deny though that they look kind of fun! Check out renting a Moke for the day and see all the sights.
The Elverhoj Museum features exhibits on Danish culture & the history of Solvang along with art in a Scandinavian-inspired house. (Right now the museum is closed, be sure to check in directly for updates.)
Duh! When in wine country!! There are actually a surprising amount of tasting rooms in the downtown area of Solvang that you can pop into, but if you’re looking for a more picturesque winery setting, definitely check out Buttonwood Winery – bring a picnic too!
Other Recommendations for Wineries around the SYV: Brave & Maden Estate Wine, Sunstone Vineyards, Spear, Melville, Peake Ranch, Pence, Foxen Winery, Martian Ranch and Vineyard,Cambria, Presqu’ile Winery
Go wild – feed some seriously big birds (ostriches and emus) at OstrichLand! And try not to giggle yourself to death. or get pecked.
Solvang is one of the most beautiful places to take your bike out for a scenic ride. No matter your level of expertise. The city of Solvang has some really great cycling itineraries you should take a look at (I’m dying over the Sideways ride). And if you don’t have a bike, no problem – rent one from Wheel Fun Rentals (they even have those goofy 4 people pedal bikes you can rent.)
Take a private and scenic horseback ride through the beautiful hills of the Santa Ynez Valley with Vino Vaqueros – and yes, this ride comes complete with wine. God bless. Or just stay at Alisal Guest Ranch and you can ride all the time!
The Solvang Motorcycle Museum houses an amazing collection of vintage and rare motorcycles as well as European race bikes. Fun!
If you’re toting kiddos, there’s thankfully plenty of family-friendly activities in Solvang. But by far one of the most adorable (and favorite) is visiting the mini horses at Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch. (They are currently renovating and closed to the public, but they should be reopening soon so be sure to check in on their Facebook page for updates!) If you want to see big horses in action, visit Flag Is UP Farms.
At Morrell Nut & Berry Farm you can pick your own goodies – from June – September you can pick fresh raspberries and blackberries, in October and November you can enjoy sun-dried walnuts. Alternatively, you can visit Apple Lane Farm to obviously pick some apples! Roughly speaking, from mid to late August – Gala Apples / September and part of October – Golden and Red Delicious Apples / October – Fuji and Granny Smith Apples / November – Granny Smith Apples.